Adventures in Unclonable Function Technology and Project Ara Development
Ready. Set. Authenticate. This week’s Fish Fry investigates how Microsemi FPGAs are changing the cyber-security landscape one PUF (Physically Unclonable Function) at a time. My guest is Tim Morin from Microsemi. Tim joins Fish Fry for the first time - discussing the zeros and ones of PUF technology, explaining why it's so important to today’s IoT products, and revealing what it's really like to own fourteen (whoa) horses. Also this week, I unveil some seriously cool news from the most recent Google Project Ara Developer’s Conference.
Telecom Company Turns its Attention to Games, Cars, and Tablets
Conexant is one of those companies that used to be big. Like Polaroid, Pan Am, Commodore, Westinghouse, or Life magazine, it carries a once-proud brand name that belies its current station. The company was spun off from mighty Rockwell International 15 years ago during the height of the networking boom, and it has steadily decimated itself since. A string of divestitures capped by a complete Chapter 11 reorganization two years ago have seen the one-time telecom darling reduced to a private firm with about $120 million in total sales.
That’s not to say that Conexant isn’t successful. And with over 300 employees drawing a paycheck, Conexant is no hole-in-the-wall outfit. But it’s not… y’know… a big deal.
Hazy Predictions for the Coming Year in Technology
With a quick polish of the crystal ball (okay, it’s a snow globe) and a tip of the hat to Scott Hilburn, I do hereby make my official and semi-seriously considered prognostications for The Year in Technology, 2015 Edition.
- Tesla Motors will reject separate takeover offers from Daimler Benz, BMW, and Nissan/Renault. The battery-car manufacturer has been flying high lately, even becoming the #1 selling car – of any kind – in the country of Norway. That success has attracted interested suitors eager to learn about Tesla’s battery technology and/or to co-opt the brand’s shine. Tesla is nevertheless likely to spurn all outside offers, remaining steadfastly independent. You will be able to buy Tesla batteries for other devices/appliances before long, however.
Few-Centimeter and -Meter Accuracy from BeSpoon and CSR
We’ve talked before about the challenges of navigating indoors. It was a hard problem then; it remains a hard problem today, with numerous technological contributions coming here and there to help out. For the most part, there’s still no blockbuster new technology to put render all that has come before obsolete, but what follows is a look at a couple of recently-announced real-time location service (RTLS) approaches that continue to build on this pile of solutions.
Be the Spoon
We’ll start with a self-contained proprietary system. In fact, it’s so proprietary that it has its own phone, although, in reality, the phone is more of a development kit than a product. In fact, they announced three such kits a couple of months ago.
New RISC Processor for SoC Developers is Yours for the Taking
“There are two major products that came from Berkeley: LSD and Unix. We don't believe this to be a coincidence.” – Jeremy S. Anderson.
Ready for some radical, left-field (not to say left-wing) thinking? Believe in free love, sharing, and open markets? Step right this way. We’ve got something for you.
Oh, goody. It’s another new microprocessor instruction set.
The great minds at the University of California at Berkeley (that’s “Cal” to insiders) have added a lot to our community over the years. Berkeley was the source of some early RISC processor research and the birthplace of Sun’s famous SPARC processor. And its Big Kahuna, Dr. David A. Patterson, PhD., is professor (and former chair) of Computer Science at Berkeley, as well as being an IEEE and ACM Fellow and recipient of the John von Neumann Medal. You may know him as the Patterson in Hennessy & Patterson, authors of the authoritative computer design bible. A real computer nerd, in other words.
Soft Machines Uses Combination of Tricks to Improve Performance
Still trying to juggle those flaming chainsaws? Splendid, because now we’re going to see how it’s done.
Last week we introduced Soft Machines and its VISC processor, a new CPU design that runs native ARM code even though it’s not an ARM processor. Soft Machines says VISC can also be tailored to run x86 code, Java code, or just about anything else the company decides is worthwhile. It’s a tabula rasa microprocessor: able to run just about anything you throw at it.
Its other major trick is that it can extract more single-thread performance out of a given binary program than any other CPU. And do so without expending a horrendous number of transistors or consuming planetary levels of energy. Let’s start with that part.
Soft Machines’ VISC Processor Takes an Unorthodox Approach
Excuse me while I juggle these flaming chainsaws. While riding a unicycle on a tightrope crossing over Niagara Falls. Blindfolded. Challenging enough for ya?
That’s essentially what a new company called Soft Machines is attempting. It’s a new firm with an entirely new microprocessor design that is taking on the two toughest challenges in the business: how to increase performance while reducing power, and how to run programs written for other processors. Oh, and they’re competing with ARM for embedded RISC processor cores. And then they’ll be taking on Intel and AMD with x86 processors. Challenging enough for ya?
It’s not every day you get to see a brand new microprocessor company. What do you think this is – 1998? Yet Soft Machines thinks it’s cracked the secret code to making embedded processors that are both fast and small, quick yet power-efficient, new yet totally compatible with existing binary code.
Sensors Stay Steady
On April 19, 1965, Electronics magazine ran an article called “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits.” It was written by an engineer from Fairchild Semiconductor, and it contained a simple prediction that turned out to be the trend that changed the world. Gordon Moore’s article is the reference point for the explosive growth in semiconductor capability that has lasted for almost fifty years now.
In that same year, there was another article in that same magazine describing a device invented by Harvey Nathanson of Westinghouse Labs that combined a tungsten rod over a transistor to form a “microscopic frequency selective device” - the very first MEMS device. The device was later patented as the “Resonant Gate Transistor.”
So - MEMS and logic transistors have both been around for almost fifty years. And, since MEMS and logic transistors are fabricated in the same factories, using the same techniques, and used in the same systems, there is a natural temptation to draw correlations between them.
Cryptographic Processor Has Utility Well Beyond Apple Pay
I know most of you read the first few words of the title up to the colon and thought, “Oh jeez, he’s back on his Serious Security Soapbox and using the Apple celebrity photo hack as a cautionary tale.” Hardly. And lest anyone think I’ve been hard on Apple of late vis-à-vis their eponymous smart watch, I am going to build a veritable security fortress using the iPhone 6.
Let’s start with backup, as in backing up your data, as in that REALLY important thing that most people cannot be bothered with. I’ve taken backup VERY seriously since WAY back for the purely practical reason that storage media weren’t at all reliable:
- I started backing up paper tape the first time one of my programs was shredded by a jam in the tape reader
- I started backing up tape storage the first time one of my tape cartridges unspooled
- I started backing up floppies the first time I left one on top of the monitor, which at the time were things called “cathode ray tubes” that emitted magnetic fields
- I started backing up hard drives immediately, because those early 10 MB [sic] units experienced head crashes if you sneezed in their vicinity
Business Models Collide, Over and Over Again
There’s an old saying that programming is – ahem – like practicing the world’s oldest profession. In both cases, there is no inventory, no fixed overhead costs, and no actual goods sold. Instead, the “product” is really a service. Both depreciate rapidly and both are labor-intensive. Most of all, practitioners get to sell their product to one customer and then sell it again to somebody else. With no cost-of-goods-sold (COGS), every sale should be pure profit, right? And yet, people in neither profession ever seem to get rich. What’s wrong with that business model?
I can’t tell if Android is doing really well or if it’s heading into a downward spiral. On one hand, Android has taken the embedded world by storm, powering all sorts of new devices. What could be better than a free operating system, and one packed with features, too? And open source? With lots of support? Sign me up!